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Apple's profit climbs 47% in its 'most profitable quarter ever'

Its earnings of $1.67 billion far exceed analysts' expectations. The increase is fueled by brisk back-to-school sales of the company's MacBook computers and the continued popularity of its iPhone.

October 20, 2009|Alex Pham

Apple Inc.'s fiscal fourth-quarter profit soared 47%, surprising Wall Street and providing perhaps the strongest signal yet that technology companies may be leading the economy out of the doldrums.

Fueled by brisk back-to-school sales of its MacBook notebook computers and continued momentum of its popular iPhone, the Cupertino, Calif., company said it posted its "most profitable quarter ever."

Its earnings of $1.67 billion far exceeded analysts' expectations and were another sign that the technology sector might be a bellwether for a larger recovery. Apple's results followed others in recent weeks that have beaten Wall Street's forecasts, including Google Inc. reporting Friday that its quarterly profit jumped 27%.

"We are thrilled with these results," Apple Chief Financial Officer Peter Oppenheimer said during a conference call with analysts, "particularly given the economic environment around us."

Analysts were expecting the company to report net income of $1.3 billion on sales of $9.1 billion in the quarter that ended Sept. 26, but sales jumped 24% from the year-earlier quarter to $9.87 billion.

Apple shares surged after the earnings announcement, rising as much as 8% in after-hours trading and briefly surpassing their all-time high of $202.96 set in December 2007. The shares had closed up $1.81 at $189.86 before the earnings release.

Analysts had wondered this year how the company would fare, given that its premium-priced products are considered discretionary. Apple appeared to show little if any bruising from an economy that has affected nearly every other company. It sold more than 3 million of its pricey Mac laptop and desktop computers in the quarter, up 17% from the same quarter last year. And sales of its popular iPhone grew 7% to 7.4 million units last year.

Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs said in a statement that the company sold more Macs and iPhones than in any other quarter.

Not everything Apple touches has turned to gold, however. Sales of its iPod music players fell 8% to 10.2 million units during the quarter. Apple tried to add sizzle to iPod sales Sept. 9, introducing video recording capability to its Nano model and lowering the price of its high-end iPod Touch to $199 for the 8-gigabyte model.

Sales of the iPod Touch, which has many of the same functionalities as the iPhone, grew 100% compared with the year-earlier quarter, Oppenheimer said.

Looking ahead, Apple is poised for more good news, said Trip Chowdhry, analyst for Global Equities Research. More than 3 out every 5 Macs currently in the market use an old chip technology called Power PC. Their owners are likely to upgrade to the new Macs using semiconductors from Intel Corp. in the coming year, Chowdhry said. The reason: Apple recently released a new operating system for its Macs called Snow Leopard.

"Many people will use Snow Leopard as a reason to upgrade their Macs," he said.

Apple, however, will face a formidable foe this holiday when cellphone manufacturers release their answers to the iPhone -- so-called smart phones equipped with Google Inc.'s Android operating system.

"Starting this holiday, the free rein Apple has had in smart phones will be challenged for the first time," Chowdhry said.


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